Fighting for the spoils : Cape burgerschap and faction disputes in Cape Town in the 1770s

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Cape of Good Hope was rocked by a period of political turmoil at the end of the 1770s and beginning of 1780s. Coenraad Beyers published an extensive study about this period and labelled the protesters: Cape Patriots ("Die Kaapse Patriotte"). In his view they were pre-Afrikaner burghers who, driven by ideological arguments, opposed a colonial VOC tyranny. This thesis aims to revise this analysis, while seeking to demonstrate that late eighteenth century Cape society was marked by a complex and intertwined network of status groups. The burgher protests are used as a case study to illustrate that the Cape settlement was part and parcel of the Dutch empire. The protesters emphasised that their burgerschap was on par with that in cities in the Dutch Republic. The first part of the thesis compares Cape and Dutch burgerschap and argues that the Cape burghers were justified in stating that they were burghers of a city belonging to the United Netherlands. It furthermore becomes clear that the Cape burghers had developed a robust burgher identity. This certainly contributed to the outbreak of the conflict, but was not the determining factor. Because the Cape settlement was essentially a Dutch city, many elements many elements of political and social life derived from the Dutch Republic. One of these was that at the Cape a ruling elite consisting of higher VOC officials and prominent burghers had developed with close familial and entrepreneurial links between them.

Includes bibliographical references.